Real Sharpie marker next to a counterfeit "Shoupie" marker

Counterfeit Textbooks, Who They Hurt & How to Avoid Purchasing One

For many years, the allure of counterfeit products has grabbed hold of tourists taking a stroll down Canal street in New York City and the possibility of obtaining high-end, designer gear for a fraction of the cost has been tempting to many. However, not all counterfeits imitate high end items like handbags and designer clothes. In fact, a wide swathe of counterfeit items are sold every year including makeup, books, movies, pens and more.

The purchasing of these seemingly trivial items, isn’t quite as trivial as one might think.

A History of Counterfeits

Let’s take a journey into the ancient beginnings of counterfeiting. Bear with me here. Remarkably, the history of counterfeiting can be traced as far back as 7th century BC—that is almost three millennia ago! Historical studies have shown that counterfeit currency appeared simultaneously with the minting of the first coins within Ancient Greece. At the time, authentic coins were constructed by imprinting a design onto a disc of pure, precious metal. The pure metal composition gave each coin an intrinsic value, making each “worth its weight” in whatever metal served as the base. The ancient counterfeiters devised a way to manufacture imitation coins at a reduced cost. The resulting battle between authorities and counterfeiters has waged on for nearly three millennia with little or no end in sight.

Counterfeits and the Textbook World

So what effect does the purchase of a counterfeit item, even if accidental, have on the world today? And why should a consumer care? In 2017, a report by the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property states the annual revenue losses from intellectual property violations to the United States costs up to $540 billion. These losses not only affect the bottom line of big brand companies or record companies or publishing companies – costing them millions, but they directly affect the livelihoods of designers, musicians, artists and writers. For example, if a professor penned your 2018 Statistics textbook, but the copy you purchased was a counterfeit textbook, he would lose out on the royalties that would have been paid to him by the publisher had you purchased a legal copy. Multiply that loss by hundreds of thousands of instances. With that said, if you’re wondering why your school has directed you to purchase an outdated textbook, understand that the motivation for someone to create an updated version has been largely diminished due to the presence and circulation of counterfeit textbooks.

If that’s not reason enough (along with the obvious inferiority of a counterfeit) for someone, say a cash-strapped student, to care about obtaining counterfeit products, there is one more major reason to avoid doing so. Hypothetically, imagine that a student purchases a copy of a counterfeit textbook – by accident. At the end of the semester the student then chooses to resell their textbook to a bookstore in order to recoup some of the money they spent on it. Even if this person was unaware that the book was counterfeit, they have unknowingly committed copyright infringement and may be found liable of the offense. This can result in statutory fines starting at $750 per work infringed and even greater fines (up to a maximum of $150,000) per work intentionally infringed.

How to Avoid Counterfeit Textbooks

The hypothetical above presents a haunting situation. It is because of this situation that you should avoid purchasing a counterfeit textbook in order to save money, seeing that it could actually cost you greatly in the long run. But how does one avoid buying counterfeit books or how can you tell if you’ve received one?

Here is a list of tips to keep you safe when shopping for textbooks online or at your local bookstore.

  • Does the book cover resemble that of the publisher?
  • Are the colors off and different from the original?
  • Check the seller’s history. Better yet, speak the seller directly. Will they provide you with their name, address, and company from which they are selling the book?
  • Scour the internet for any comments or reviews on the seller to ensure that nobody has found issue with their products in the past.
  • Are there large gaps of missing pages in the book? Does the page order go …5, 6, 7, 12, 13…? Wait where are pages 8 through 11!
  • Is the quality of the book inconsistent? Do the images appear low quality?
  • Do all of the ISBN labels on the book match up? Look inside the book, on the book jacket, on the packaging, and anywhere else you find the ISBN.
  • Do the actual, physical dimensions of the book match what the publisher describes? Amazon lists the physical dimensions of textbooks, does yours match up?
  • Does the book have the correct author?

The printing and distributing of counterfeit textbooks by illegitimate distributors must be stopped. It starts by avoiding the purchase of counterfeit textbooks and informing others to do the same. Please consider sharing this article.

Sources and Images

Authors Guild (2019). The State of Counterfeit and Pirated Goods Trafficking and Recommendations.

Wikipedia Contributors (n.d.). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved July 18, 2020, from

Wikipedia Contributors (n.d.). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved July 18, 2020, from

Image at the top of the post: Authentic Sharpie vs Counterfeit Shoupie (DangApricot / CC BY-SA (

About the author

Phil Smyres
CEO and Founder of
I graduated from Ohio State University, and I’ve been in Columbus, OH ever since. In 1994, I started buying and selling books on campus with two brick and mortar stores. Those stores have since closed but has remained a premier online retailer for all your textbook needs. During this time, we’ve also added two additional online retailers, and

My interests include spending time with my family, traveling everywhere and watching Ohio State football.